A SENIOR legislator said Wednesday that proposals to allow online gaming firms to resume operations “makes little sense” if it cannot properly document their foreign workers and account for their taxable earnings.

“In hearings in the House and the Senate, we have been told that one, we cannot even properly keep track of and document POGO workers; and two, that we have not been able to collect taxes from them,” House Minority Leader and Manila Representative Bienvenido M. Abante, Jr. said in a statement, referring to the part of the online gaming industry licensed under the Philippine Offshore Gaming Operator (POGO) program.

“If that is the case, then allowing them to resume operations ostensibly so the government can earn revenue to help battle the COVID-19 (coronavirus disease 2019) outbreak makes little sense,” he added.

Aside from unresolved issues in regulating the POGO industry, Mr. Abante said the government will be sending “conflicting signals” to the public regarding the enhanced community quarantine (ECQ) should it allow POGO employees to return to work.

“The government has suspended work in Luzon to keep people from going outside to prevent the spread of COVID-19, but has allowed essential industries like food production, manufacturing, and sales to continue.”

He said that “many of our countrymen want to go back to work because the ECQ has deprived them of their livelihoods, and we tell them that we cannot allow them to work for now for the good of the public’s health.”

Kung hayaan natin makabalik ang POGO sa gitna ng krisis na ito, tatanungin nila, bakit ang mga foreigner na ito pwede magtrabaho, kami hindi? (If we let POGOs return during the crisis, the people will ask why we allow foreigners to work while many of us cannot) That is a conflicting message government cannot send, not while it adopts more measures to strictly enforce the ECQ,” Mr. Abante said.

ACT-CIS Party-list Rep and vice chair of the House games and amusements committee Eric G. Yap earlier called for POGOs to return to work to boost government funds as it addresses the COVID-19 outbreak.

Philippine Amusement and Gaming Corp. (PAGCOR) Chair and Chief Executive Officer Andrea D. Domingo said she “fully supports” Mr. Yap’s petition. Finance Secretary Carlos G. Domiguez III, meanwhile, told reporters Monday that the department is still evaluating whether the POGO suspension should be lifted.

Meanwhile, Ang Probinsyano Party-list Rep. Ronnie L. Ong, who is also vice chairman of the House games and amusements committee, urged the Philippine Charity Sweepstakes Office (PCSO) to continue its operations by launching “secure and fraud-free” interactive mobile lottery games to help the government generate funds to address the COVID-19 crisis.

“Interactive and mobile lottery games can actually be very timely because of the ECQ. Many people are in their homes doing nothing. Instead of wasting money on some online games to fight boredom, they can actually support PCSO lotteries as their way of contributing in the war effort against this unseen enemy,” he said in a statement Wednesday.

Mr. Ong said that the government is losing at least P3.75 billion per month since PCSO decided to stop operations in March. — Genshen L. Espedido